Wellbeing at Christmas: Time to focus on you

Written by: Sophie Howells | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

This Christmas holiday may be the first time that many teachers and school leaders have chance to take a breath and step back from the chaos and stress of Covid-19. Sophie Howells says that now is the time to prioritise your wellbeing – and offers some ideas

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all during 2020, but the impact on teachers, school leaders and other education staff has been particularly acute.

Our latest research, the Teacher Wellbeing Index 2020, shows that while teachers have displayed strong resilience and great adaptability, stress levels among the profession have risen. This is particularly the case for school leaders, and there was a clear spike in stress-levels after schools returned in September.

We have also seen a worrying growth in symptoms of poor mental health such as insomnia, tearfulness and difficulty concentrating.

Earlier this year we reported feelings of undervalue and under-appreciation among staff, as revealed during our special investigation Covid and the classroom (see further information).

School leaders have struggled to implement and maintain safety measures, as government guidance has been unclear and inconsistent. Workload also remains a major issue leading to talented people leaving the profession.

Sadly, we also know that many of these issues are not new. The crisis has magnified many pre-existing stressors. This is why Education Support will continue to advocate at government level for proper funding for schools, the prioritisation of teachers’ mental health in all education policy-making, and a review of the accountability system, which we know puts such a burden on teachers’ and pupils’ wellbeing.

As we near Christmas and the end of an extraordinary year, it may be the first time that many teachers and school leaders have the chance and the space to pause for breath and to reflect on having made it this far. So we want to invite you to consider how you will prioritise your mental wellbeing over the break. Here are some ideas…

Develop a regular routine of self-care: This cannot be over-emphasised. Find a time in the day, every day, when you do something that is restorative and just for you. This is not selfish, but will help your brain to calm. It will be an investment in sustaining yourself over the coming weeks and months.

Give boundaries to your worries and anxieties: This might take the form of journaling, dedicating specific time to being with your worries or working with a counsellor to help you look at your worries objectively. While it can be hard not to let them take over, it can be possible to give your anxieties clear boundaries.

Set boundaries for social media use: Limit your time online and it will help you to reduce your anxiety. Limit your news consumption and make sure it is from credible sources.

Switch your perspective: It can be easy to go down a negative spiral and always expect the worst outcome from a difficult scenario. Try to catch yourself when you are doing this and remind yourself that the worst-case scenario is not necessarily guaranteed.

Be kind to yourself: Remember that your feelings are okay. Many who work in education are sociable and thrive on social connection. So at present you may be surprised that unexpected feelings arise including sadness, grief, or even anger. It is important not to judge yourself harshly for your feelings. There is ample evidence that higher levels of self-compassion can be strongly related to fewer mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and stress.

Make and maintain social connections: This has been hard at school and outside in these times of enforced social distance, but making a point of staying in touch with friends and family is nourishing and will help to build your resilience.

Finally, no matter what you are feeling, if you or a colleague are having a difficult time, remember that our free helpline is staffed by accredited counsellors and is open 24/7 to anyone working in the education sector.

Our team is great at listening and helping people to get a different perspective on difficult issues, or to make sense of unfamiliar feelings. You don’t need to be in crisis to call. We are here for everyone.

We also have a range of digital resources to address specific concerns, such as anxiety, coping with uncertainty , secondary trauma, bereavement and loss.

And our financial grants service helps keep education staff in their homes and their profession. In the last four years we have paid £1.3 million in grants to 1,850 applicants from the education sector.

If you, a friend, or colleague need support, get in touch. This charity was set up in 1877 by education staff, for education staff – and we are still here for you.

  • Sophie Howells is from Education Support, a UK charity dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of the education workforce. Read her previous articles for Headteacher Update via https://bit.ly/3lZJ8aU

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